I finally decided to get checked out in a modern airplane, a 2015 Cirrus SR20 equipped with the Garmin Perspective avionics suite. This is as modern as light general aviation airplanes get these days, with Garmin’s synthetic vision, GFC 700 autopilot and FMS control panel, Max-Viz enhanced vision and, of course, the famous and still-controversial Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS).
The checkout was with CalAir, a Cirrus-only flight training, airplane rental and management company based at Hawthorne Airport just south of the busy final approach corridor to Los Angeles International Airport. CalAir’s fleet is well maintained and in excellent condition, and the operation and its instructors are serious about safety and proper standard operating procedures, something that is sadly missing in much general aviation flying. I also have to credit CalAir owner Jonathan Lucas for a quick response to my website query about transition training. His was the second local Cirrus training company I contacted via their websites; the first company never responded to me.
The training experience was enjoyable. My talented instructor—Didier Ushijima—never tried to rush through anything and allowed me to take my time, make my own mistakes and cement the learning through practice and repetition. The SR20 isn’t hard to fly, but it likes to fly by the numbers. And it didn’t take me long to figure out that when the SR20 is done flying during the flare, you better be close to the runway and ready to touch down because there is no energy left to smooth out the touchdown.
There were two standout aspects to this training, which felt a lot more like a mini-type rating than a typical transition to a new airplane. One was learning Cirrus’s CAPS philosophy, which is a separate subject entirely but basically boils down to this: if you can guarantee survival of yourself and your passengers by not using the CAPS in an emergency, then that’s fine. But if, as is likely, using the CAPS offers a nearly 100-percent chance of survival, why not use it? This remains a touchy subject among many pilots, but I think I have a better perspective having gone through the Cirrus training on how the CAPS works and when it makes sense to use it. (I'll explore this topic in a subsequent blog.)
Cirrus’s training materials are also noteworthy. Whenever I’ve transitioned into a new light airplane before, I had to sit down with the POH and learn the limitations, airspeeds, systems and normal and emergency procedures, but that was the extent of any training material.
Cirrus has a far more comprehensive training program. The first stop is the Cirrus Learning Portal, a website that includes training resources and comprehensive training courses, including transition, Perspective instrument procedures and icing training. The online courses are well thought out and walk the student through each subject, with introductory material, interactive features and quizzes after each module. Plenty of additional resources are available to dig deeper into each subject area. And students can go back and redo any of the modules to refresh their knowledge at any time. The Garmin Perspective avionics module is especially good, with plenty of interactive practice to help the student learn how to get used to operating this complex avionics system.
To supplement the Learning Portal, Cirrus recently released its interactive Flight Operations Manual (iFOM), an Apple iBook optimized for the iPad, although it also works fine on the iPhone and Macintosh computers. The iFOM is an electronic and interactive version of the existing FOM, and its focus is on standard and emergency procedures for the SR20, SR22 and SR22T. The iFOM includes diagrammed flight profiles, maneuver outlines and checklist flow patterns for specific procedures. Being interactive, this version of the FOM allows the Cirrus pilot to practice maneuvers and cockpit flows to get ready for flying the airplane.
With the Learning Portal and the iFOM, Cirrus has done an amazing job leveraging Internet technology to help pilots not only learn about its products for the first time, but also encourage pilots to take recurrent training. These training products are a great example of a general aviation OEM stepping up its training game, and I hope other OEMs look at what Cirrus has accomplished and try to figure out how they can take this one step further.